Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Elizabeth Strout and Olive Kitteridge,your tour guides to life in Crosby,Maine

Olive Kitteridge is a former math teacher who is many things to many people in the small town of Crosby,Maine. To her husband,Henry,an easy going pharmacist who once developed a bit of a crush on his clerk Denise(who was also married to a man named Henry),Olive can be an angry,unpredictable woman at times.

To her son Christopher,a man that grows up to marry a know-it-all type of woman who leaves him after one year of marriage and then hooks up with a more laid back lady with two kids years later,Olive is to blame for all of his emotional problems,according to his therapist Arthur.

To Kevin Coulson,one of Olive's former students,her presence is a welcome one as he sits in his car,considering his options for ending his life. These folks and others each hold their own chapter in Elizabeth Strout's new book,Olive Kitteridge,a novel made up of thirteen interconnected stories,all of which share Olive as a common thread.

In some of these stories,Olive has only a cameo appearance,such as Winter Concert,where elderly couple Bob and Jane go over a few of the finer points and touch on a couple of old wounds in their marriage,or is just a brief mention like in Criminal,where nervous talker Rebecca Brown starts to find comfort in kleptomania. In a good number of these tales,Olive takes center stage and while she is a hard woman to like,let alone love,you do see the more vulnerable side of her.

Yes,Olive is a blunt talking gal,the kind of person who tells people to shut up when they have hysterics(even during a brief hostage situation,like the one she and Henry went thru in A Different Road) and finds the world to be a rather bizarre place these days,but she's not that distant from life in her heart.

Bonding with others openly and emotionally doesn't come naturally to her. She just has a harder time than most keeping connected to things,especially when Henry is left incapacitated after a stroke and Christopher barely tries to communicate with her at all.

As in her previous novels(Amy & Isabelle,Abide With Me),Strout deftly paints a portrait of life in New England,warts and all,that showcases her strengths as a writer. She dazzles the reader with her keen sense of perspective and a real knack for displaying the joys and despairs of humanity in all of their splendor and glory.

Olive Kitteridge has just been released for sale today,and I urge you to get yourself a copy and when you're done,spread the good word about it far and wide. Book clubs and reading groups,get ready to meet Olive. She's got a lot to say and will have you and your friends talking and thinking about her for a long while.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review. I just finish Edward P. Jones's story collections and needed to have more in my life! I remembered the NYT Review about this and decided to see what a few others were saying, the book is now on hold at me and I'm picking up this afternoon. Thanks!